(NEW YORK) — The room being used at one of the so-called “tender age” facilities designated to house immigrant children looked “home-y” but something seemed wrong.
Colleen Kraft, the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, told ABC News that a concerned pediatrician working near the border called her to come and visit a facility housing children under 12 years old in Combes, Texas.
She was able to visit the facility, run by the company Southwest Key Programs, in April, and she said that it was unsettling because the children were “so abnormally quiet.”
In one room reserved for toddlers, there were beds, cribs, toys, books and a play mat, Kraft said.
“It was actually kind of a home-y setting,” she said.
“What was really striking about the place, it was a room full of toddlers [and if you’ve ever been in a room full of toddlers you’d know] they’re active, they’re loud and they’re playing and they’re rambunctious. This room, all of the children except for one were very quiet and were playing quietly… except for one little girl who was crying and sobbing and wailing and just inconsolable.”
The girl looked like she was under 2 years old, Kraft said.
“The worker was trying to give her toys and trying to give her books but she couldn’t pick her up or hold her,” Kraft added.
“We were told that the policy was that they couldn’t actually hold or pick up the kids,” she said.
Asked if she would have held the kids if that were allowed, she said she absolutely would have done so.
“It’s a logical comforting thing to do we just do that as human beings,” she explained.
“Here you have a bunch of quiet little toddlers and one inconsolable crying toddler who couldn’t be helped… we knew that none of us could help these kids because they didn’t have what they needed which was their mother,” she said.
“They were traumatized.”
Southwest Key Programs did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment.
In response to a different story, where a former employee said that he was told to tell boys in the care of Southwest Key Programs that they could not hug each other, the company released a statement saying, “hugging is absolutely allowed.”
Kraft told ABC News she also went into the room for preschoolers, between ages 4 to 6, and said that the kids were playing with toys and looking at some books.
The pediatricians that flagged the centers to Kraft said: “They knew what kind of stress would do to these poor little developing brains.”
Kraft explained that people have stress responses, “and we have increases in our cortisol, in our fight or flight hormones and they’re there for a reason…”
“For a developing child, that stress when buffered by a loving parent helps them to become resilient … these hormones come into play when a child falls down and hurts themselves,” Kraft said. “But these same hormones when they are prolonged, when there’s prolonged exposure and there’s no parent to buffer these hormones, they cause disruption in the neuro synapses. And they cause disruption to the developing brain architecture.”
In summary, Kraft says that sort environment without the emotional support of a parent can likely cause brain damage for a child.
“The pathways that develop, that lay the foundation for speech for social-emotional development, for gross and fine motor movements are happening during this young time when these toddlers are still developing,” Kraft explained, “and this prolonged stress or what we call exposure to toxic stress, it disrupts the developing brain.”
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